Fr. Booth’s “Words of Wisdom”

Problematic Progress

Of recent, the topics of truth, goodness, and beauty have been discussed to a certain degree. These three concepts are related to one another by virtue of the fact that they all, in their purest form, stem from, and therefore lead to God Himself. Our fallen nature, however, often inhibits our ability to recognize truth, goodness, and beauty. We easily fall for embracing the seemingly true, the apparently good, and the deceptively beautiful. When we sin we are usually seeking a perceived form of goodness even though we often know that what we are seeking is wrong. It seems good at the time, or the circumstances make things seem more licit than they really are, we just aren’t thinking about what we are doing, or in some cases we simply do not care. Very few people freely, deliberately, and knowingly embrace evil simply because it is evil or because they actually desire evil itself: those who choose evil in and of itself are profoundly depraved, mentally ill, or even both.

The case of Ted Bundy provides an example of someone profoundly depraved and mentally ill. Bundy was a serial murderer and rapist responsible for the death of at least three dozen women. He was most likely a psychopath but he grew in his depravity as his behavior became more debauched. Details from accounts of crimes against women led to pornography which led to being a peeping tom which ultimately led to rape. While he never spoke in detail of how his violent behavior began or progressed, it is most likely that it worked up from being cruel to animals to causing relatively minor injuries on humans to assault and then murder. Thus, for Bundy depravity bred depravity with mental illness preventing conscience, remorse, or social norms from impeding or limiting that progression.

The same progression of depravity can still happen in those with no mental illness, but it must be said that mental illness in general certainly does not automatically lead to immoral behavior. In Bundy’s specific case, his being a psychopath certainly led to a faster, deeper, and more profound plunge into the depths of evil. But how would someone who is normal go down that same path? The answer, again, is progressively. Everyone has the capacity to grow in their sinfulness.

In some instances, one sin begets a different type of sin. King David is a great example. Failing to observe custody of his eyes resulted in lust that begat rape or adultery which brought deception and ultimately murder. David found himself in a quandary and used immoral behavior in an attempt to extricate himself. In his case, the hole he dug only got deeper and deeper. While we might not have gone so far as murder or adultery, we have the same capacity. Or one sin can bring forth more sins of the same genre. One lie, for example, frequently begets another lie. Lies can multiply so rapidly that one lie will eventually contradict another. Even when confronted with the contradiction, it is more likely that yet more lies will be used to explain it away. The web of lies that some people weave can even begin to fool the liar himself: he might actually begin to believe his own lies and deceive himself more thoroughly than those he intended to deceive in the first place.

Thus, sin can progress in number, type, and frequency but they can also progress in severity. Telling white lies sets us up for lying about more important and serious matters. Someone willing to perjure himself in an affidavit or in court is likely well versed in deceit. Lies become a way of life for some people. A Victoria’s Secret catalog could lead a man to more explicit pictures to videos to progressively extreme and perverted material. Gossip can lead to disparagement then to detraction then to calumny and then to outright vicious slander. Theft almost always starts small, such as small change or a piece of candy. It is very unlikely that a bank robber or an embezzler began with these major crimes. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us that hate is more serious than we might think (Mt 5:21-26) because it leads to murder and the same thing can be said of lust and adultery (Mt 5:27-30).

Thus, we should never be complacent about our sins. We should never try to deceive ourselves into thinking that we can achieve good through the power of evil. We certainly cannot take solace in the fact that our sins are common or widespread. We should detest and fight against every one of our sins lest we begin to progress in immorality.

—Fr Booth